The walls of Phoebe Bridgers’ bedroom are stark white. The decorations are eclectic: a black-and-white Nick Cave poster, an upside-down bouquet of dead roses, a mounted electric guitar painted with silver stars. Her bed sits on a white metal frame, its wiry headboard wrapped in string lights. If you look closely enough, you can make out the pattern of her comforter, a mish-mash of rocket ships and planets and other assorted shapes.
If this all feels like an invasion of privacy, like the unintended intimacy of Zoom, consider that the previous night, the 26-year-old singer performed from this very spot — the center of her bed — on The Late Late Show with James Corden, to an estimated audience of 1 million viewers, plus nearly 200,000 who have since watched it on YouTube. At this point, Bridgers’ bedroom is public information.
“I have done so much shit in here,” Bridgers says, surveying her space. She’s lived in this apartment since she was 19; it’s where she wrote most of Stranger In the Alps, the 2017 debut album that made her an indie darling, as well as Punisher, the Grammy-nominated follow-up that topped best-of-2020 lists (including, it should be noted, Barack Obama's annual favorite songs roundup). “I have written songs in this bed and at my kitchen table for the past eight years,” she says. “My neighbors yell at me to shut the f*ck up sometimes when I'm singing.”
Here’s what you can’t see on late-night or Instagram live: technically the bed and the kitchen table are in the same room. In fact, it’s all one room. “I lived here with a partner once, that was pretty insane,” she says. ”It's really f*cking small. But I usually barely live here.” For the better part of the last four years, Bridgers has been on the road, touring for her own solo career as well as for her beloved supergroup, boygenius, with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus, and her duo act with close friend Conor Oberst, Better Oblivion Community Center. She was supposed to spend 2020 playing stadiums around the world as the opening act for The National and The 1975, plus her own headlining tour to support Punisher.
Instead, Bridgers has spent her breakout year within the familiar four walls of her studio apartment, trying not to read what’s written about her. She avoids all reviews besides the ones sent to her by her manager and her mom, which, she points out, gives her one thing in common with Donald Trump. “When Trump was elected, he would have people every morning send him all his good press,” she says, releasing an involuntary eye roll. “I feel like that. I don't have to seek out press because it's sent to me. I don't go to creep on comment sections and shit, I think it would drive me f*cking insane.”
The only time her reality feels altered by success is at the grocery store, where occasionally someone will recognize her behind her mask and say “congrats.” Her life, she says, “is only changing in theory.” “In that same way, it's hard to really take in what about my life is different from before I put the record out.”
On the morning of the 2021 Grammy nominations, Bridgers slept in. Her team had warned her that it could be a big day for her, but also that these things are fickle. She woke up to her phone blowing up with congratulatory text messages — she’d been nominated for four awards, including Best New Artist and Best Alternative Music Album. “That day is forever immortalized on my phone as the day that I responded to no one,” she recalls.
“My mom says, ‘Life isn't a competition but it feels good to win.’ Which I f*cking love.”
She ended up acknowledging the nominations not via publicist statement or lengthy Instagram caption, but with a tweet: “I just woke up what.” Later, she suggested that she was up for a duel with fellow nominee Megan Thee Stallion.
Thus is the joy of being a Phoebe Bridgers fan. She can write a lyric that will emotionally f*ck you up for days just as well as she can a tweet about ass-eating. “I f*cking shit-post all day long,” Bridgers says. She has no interest in cultivating a mystique. “I think that songwriting is more accessible than the way it's been portrayed in the past, where you have to be kind of an eccentric genius, or a prodigy or something,” she says. “I think it's just trying and being a full person who contains multitudes.”
Containing multitudes is Bridgers’ calling card as a songwriter — specifically, the way she undercuts an unbearable emotion with a sardonic lyric. (“You couldn’t have stuck your tongue down the throat of somebody who loves you more,” she sings on “Moon Song.") “Her voice is pure prettiness, smooth, and soaring, but I can hear within its tone that she’s tough, that she’s been through shit. And she’s funny,” Fiona Apple, who has recorded two covers with Bridgers, writes in an email. “Her writing is smart and poetic, but direct. She’s a great presence to be around. Whenever I hear her, I have a little daydream about hanging out with her and singing live — not for an audience even — I just think hanging out and singing with her would feel good.” Matt Berninger of The National, with whom Bridgers has toured and collaborated, adds, via e-mail, “Her songs make you feel like you’re hearing someone tell you something they haven’t told anybody else.”
In return, Bridgers’ fans, who call themselves “Pharbz” (a play on Nicki Minaj’s “Barbz”), post photos wearing sweatpants with her name printed across the butt (caption: “Phoebe Bridgers owns my ass”) and videos in which they awkwardly dance to her first hit “Motion Sickness” or cry to “Graceland Too" in the comforts of their car. (It helps that Bridgers often reposts them.) In a December meme, the sad girls of Twitter claimed Bridgers as their own Taylor Swift: “phoebe bridgers is taylor swift for girls who have crumbs in their bed,” “phoebe bridgers is taylor swift for girls who drowned their Sims,” “phoebe bridgers is taylor swift for girls who told kids on the playground that ‘ring around the rosie’ is actually about the black plague.”
“I think it's a totally fair and cool comparison,” Bridgers says. The musicians make records with mutual friends, and have both been experimenting with rubber-bridge guitars, she points out, but they have never met, or even exchanged messages online. “I want to,” says Bridgers. “It used to be a shock to people that I liked Taylor Swift,” she continues. “I think she is the perfect example of the way that privilege is both really lucky, but also you have to be naturally talented... and you have to be a great writer, and I've always thought she was.”
Berninger, who recently collaborated with Swift on the evermore track “Coney Island” (one of Bridgers’ favorites on the album), said that above all, when he listens to both artists, he trusts them. “Their songs paint really vivid pictures of abstract emotional places that feel genuine. I can’t explain how they do it but I think that messy honesty is what people connect to.”
A less welcome parallel with Swift is the newfound interest in Bridgers’ personal life. This summer, she found herself on the likes of Daily Mail for a rumored romance with Normal People star Paul Mescal, who would later go on to star in her Phoebe Waller-Bridge-directed video for “Savior Complex.” “I hate it,” she says. “I don't even really feel like my very private life has been torn apart. I feel like, ‘Y'all, I literally bare my soul on the internet all day.’ I have a f*cking TikTok and a Twitter and an Instagram and it's pretty clear who my inner circle is. So it's pretty weird that people want even more than that.”
She’s fine with fans dissecting her lyrics, she goes on. “I did that for my whole life. I'm like, ‘I wonder if that's about his current girlfriend?’ But then when it's like personal life shit, it's like, ‘Come on, I made this record where I literally name-check people, what else do you want from me?’"
Bridgers was born and raised in Pasadena, California, 20 minutes away from her current apartment, and she believes in all the shit you’d expect a 26-year-old artist born and raised in California to believe in. She sees a holistic nutritionist, who, in addition to telling Bridgers that her “resentment is getting smaller,” as she recounts on “Garden Song,” told her she was a witch in a past life. “It’s funny because I feel like I try really hard to be a witch in this life,” Bridgers says, gesturing to a wall of crystals and candles behind her. Later, her eyes light up at the mention of notorious health food store Erewhon. “It's a f*cking cult,” she says proudly. “I saw sweatpants that say Erewhon on them that I kind of want.” She’s currently sipping on her go-to Moon Juice beverage, a neon blue concoction that’s apparently “blue matcha with pearl.” “The girls there know me by name,” she says, knowing exactly how that sounds.
“What's funny about Erewhon and all the LA shit is like, you can just have whatever now,” Bridgers, a vegan, muses. “Veganism and vegetarianism used to be an easy way to get healthy. Now it's like, ‘You want a f*cking donut that has adaptogens in it and CBD?’” Healthy junk food is an expensive illusion, she recognizes, but if it’s her biggest vice, then so be it. “I'm a big believer in $18 treats,” she adds. “I see my friends buying cartons of cigarettes before we go to Europe because they don't have the right ones. I'm like, ‘I'll stick with the CBD brownies.’”
Hers is an extremely tame version of the rock star life; on tour with boygenius, Bridgers says, “we had a competition for who could get in their pajamas fastest.” Still, staying put these past 10 months has proven difficult. ”When nobody tells me where to stand, I feel like I lose my sense of purpose.” She tried revisiting edibles, only to be reminded why she gave them up. In another experiment, she drove up to a cabin in the woods by herself, envisioning fresh air and hikes, only to hit bad weather and end up drinking too much and FaceTiming her friends. “This year was the year where I was like, ‘Do I like to get drunk?’ And I realized, ‘No, you don't.’”
These days, her manager Darin is responsible for much of her normal human functioning. “I literally will be like, ‘Will you order this skirt online? I need it shipped to my house, but I don't know where my credit card is.’ I think I am enabled in that way. A lot of that was kind of brought to my attention. I am behaving kind of like a teenager, in ways that I never had before. You just have time to spiral. My screen time is 100%. I spent a lot of time Googling a crush who blocked me, just so that I could read their tweets.”
She actually thrives in the chaos of tour, she now thinks; it’s total freedom that’s unsettling. “If the world that I live in is not conducive to me getting exercise and eating well, then I will get exercise and eat well. Like, I'll wake up at f*cking 6 a.m. and go on a walk and eat only leaves,” she says. “But in quarantine — and I really have — I'll put my fist all the way down the neck of this baguette and eat the middle of this bread at 3 a.m.”
Bridgers thinks that manifestation — the practice of willing one’s desires into existence through the so-called “law of attraction” — gets a bad rap. “What it really just means is if you want to be a musician, then you don't care if it sucks for five years. It means if you think about it every day and you work really hard, then the world will kind of give you that work back.”
“I didn't stay up all night burning candles being like, ‘Please let me succeed, dark Lord,’” Bridgers says. She stayed up working.
The ability to devote herself singularly to her art is a luxury, as Bridgers will be the first to point out. She financed the first three years of her career with a few days of work acting in commercials. (In the depths of YouTube, you can still find her washing down some loaded nachos with a Baja Blast, her signature bleach-blonde hair shorter than it is now.) “I realize that it's a super privileged position [from which] to be like, ‘I just kept pushing on.’ The world definitely helped me.”
“It makes me sad to think that people work really hard and just kind of are forced to quit,” she continues. “I graduated high school with like a f*cking 1.5 GPA and would've had to get the world's shittiest job, if I hadn't gotten really lucky. I did work really hard, but it's because I paid for my own free time. I have friends in my life who did have to get some shitty job, so it took them four times as long to make a record. It feels like in America with the disappearing middle class; the disappearing middle class of bands definitely [also] exists. I wouldn't have as many opportunities if I didn't have as much time. I think [I’m] recognizing that, and trying from the inside to kind of dismantle it.”'
All of this factors into her latest endeavor, a record label called Saddest Factory, created as an imprint of her own label, Dead Oceans. Her first signee was Claud Mintz, a non-binary bedroom pop musician who goes by the stage name Claud. Bridgers liked that they’re a self-sufficient artist with a totally different sound than her own; Claud liked that Bridgers is a fellow artist, creative yet straightforward. “She definitely wore a suit to our first few meetings,” Claud says, “which is funny.”
“It's fun to think about something that is not myself,” Bridgers says. ”I think that it's pretty easy to live in my own little fantasy world of my own bullshit. Even just any person, your internet is curated for you to worship you. You can pretend like you're the only person on earth.”
Recently, Bridgers tweeted that it will be another eight years before she releases a follow up to Punisher. It was a joke, but it was rooted in some form of the truth, or at least of true anxiety. “I’ve written less [new music in quarantine] than you’d think,” she says. “It's exhausting to write about what's going on, and it's exhausting to not write about what's going on.” Eventually, Bridgers says, she’d like to reunite with her boygenius bandmates on a follow-up record, when it feels “as fun and rad as it always has been.”
She’s looking forward to playing shows again, too, if only to exhale a little bit. When she’s recording, she explains, she’s hard on herself, cursing bad takes, doing it over again and over again. Performing live she can let go and just have fun. “I don't really care if I'm making a weird face, or if I sound out of pitch. It's just what happens. I'm looking forward to feeling better at my job.”
Bridgers tends to make both sides of an argument, sometimes starting a new point before finishing her last, pausing to recall something she read or something a friend told her. She turns serious as she lists all the reasons she’s apprehensive about playing shows again. “The whole system is going to be so overrun with people touring,” she says. “I know by the time that I play a show, it will be safe. I will not be in the first wave of people who I'm sure are going to f*ck it up. The Chainsmokers already did that.”
She looks off-screen as potential scenarios whizz through her head — the words “emotionally draining” and “traumatizing”come up — then she snaps back to focus. Someone on Twitter said post-quarantine life will be like the Roaring ‘20s, she recalls, and she liked one person’s reply: “Is anyone going to tell them what happened after that?” She laughs at that, eventually concluding that her feelings about the future are “intense.” It’s part of a case of quarantine Stockholm syndrome, already nostalgic for the end of social distancing. “I'm kind of afraid to leave my house, because I know that I'm not going to come back to it for a long time.”
For now, she’s trying to get it all down in a quarantine journal on her computer. She’s worried that when she’s 36 she’ll look back on this as “the year of the first Grammys, and when I did all that stuff, and all these videos,” all the good stuff. “I don’t want to forget about how hard it was, like you do with relationships. You just tend to romanticize or edit out the shitty stuff,” she says. “I want to give myself credit for just enduring.”
Top image credit: Dior jacket, Lidow Archive dress, Talent's own earrings
Photographer: Paley Fairman
Stylist: Kat Typaldos
Hair & makeup: Nicole Wittman
Manicurist: Naoko Saita
Set Designer: Robert Ziemer
Bookings: Special Projects
Videographer: Sam Miron